tv Titans at the Table Bloomberg February 22, 2014 12:30am-1:01am EST
>> tonight on titans at the table. >> i'll be chatting with businessman turned environmental activist, tom steyer. he was born and raised in the financial capital of the u.s., new york city but chose to open his company in san francisco. he founded the company with $8 million, and by the time he stepped down he turned the initial investment into $30 billion, making it the fourth-largest hedge fund in the world. his personal fortune is an
estimated $2.6 billion. not content with the golf course steyer reinvented himself as an activist. >> each week, we take a look at the keystone pipeline proposal. >> he believes the pipeline will escalate production of canadian oil. >> the question here was is this a chance to change our trajectory? is this the way to change the policy of energy? >> we caught up with steyer in arkansas where he was looking at the oil spill. here is some just off the top of
the water. it's sticky. it's extremely sticky. it smells awful. >> in march 2013, a shallow underground pipeline owned by exxon burst, sending oil running down the residential street as you see in this video. >> the smell is unbelievable. look -- there is oil. >> the oil flowed down the street through a drainage ditch. the crude had come from alberta, canada, thousands of miles away. >> what are the boons for? >> they are to soak in the oil. they are supposed to. they are supposed to soak in water.
>> steyer had come to mayflower to gather ammunition for what may be the biggest fight of his life, trying to stop the pipeline from being built. he worries more leaks like this one could happen. the proposed keystone pipeline would stretch from the canadian border across the u.s. to the existing pipeline that carries oil to the refinery. >> it is not going to the united states. the true argument is, it is going to be more oil not from the middle east. that is true, but it just means there is more oil not from the middle east in the world market. >> we walked along the quiet street in mayflower that just a few months before had been cover in oil. exxon mobil is facing a $2.6 million fine for the spill and has spent $70 million to clean it up.
the company purchased many of the homes on the block. three houses were so badly damaged, exxon knocked them down. most sat empty. even after an accident, this could be a long shot. if you look at the polls, two thirds of americans do support the keystone pipeline, and that number hasn't budged. it seems you are in the minority. >> i think this is a topic in which people don't understand what it is, and it is always presented as we do this or we do nothing. that's absolutely not true. we are not going to run the society without energy. it's just how you think about it. >> steyer says the biggest issue is how tar sand oil is recovered from the canadian countryside. 20% of the oil is mixed in sandy soil lying just beneath the surface. it is spun in centrifuges to separate the oil from the dirt. 80% is trapped hundreds of feet below solid rock. steam is injected to loosen the
oil. it must then be mixed with chemicals to make it flow to the pipeline. this requires 70% more to extract than traditional oil. >> this is a gigantic mining operation in the middle of nowhere. they want to take production by 2025 and more than double it. >> your goal is to make sure that never comes out of the ground? >> from my point of view, i am not a scientist. the scientists say it would be devastatingly terrible for the people of new york if it does. >> steyer looks outside the box for answers. >> i believe the solution to our energy problem is going to be corporate america. ♪
>> tom steyer claims money didn't motivate him, but he is incredibly good at making it. the investment firm he founded has a market value of $4 billion, and that has made him a very wealthy man. you didn't like using money as a benchmark for your success. you still made a lot of it. how does that work? >> for better or worse, i am competitive. >> competitive and diversified, his investment fund invests in investment companies, including kindern morgan, but steyer has promised to divest and pledged to donate to victims of western wildfires.
now he says he looks to the oil and gas industry for answers. tell me how you to take the incident that happened with the oil spill in mayflower. how do you apply that to the work you are doing now against the keystone pipeline? >> let's step back for one second. i actually believe the solution for our energy problems is going to be corporate america, it is going to be private enterprise, that when we get the policy framework right, the people in that sphere will come up with creative, imaginative, innovative solutions that will blow our minds. if you really look at what is happening in the fossil fuels arena, people are being really creative and innovative. some people hate fracking, but fracking is a new technology some people in the united states came up with is a way of engineering around an old problem. that's exactly what i expect american business to get. -- to do.
>> you are saying not all corporations are evil. in fact, it's ok to make money as long as it's toward a goal. >> i don't think corporations are evil. what i don't think we should do is rely on corporations for our morality. the truth is we are a nation of people, and i hate to say it, but the law of the land is the people who run corporations' responsibility is to take care of their stockholders, so that is a limited worldview in my opinion, and that's not the worldview that is going to get us to the broad answer for society as a whole, so i don't actually feel resentful. i take that as a given, and when someone asks what is exxon's motivation, their motivation is the stockholders and the corporate network. >> did it make you feel you needed to do something about what was going on? did you feel you had a responsibility to do something? >> the truth is what we have been trying to do is get the
human story out because that is what other americans can understand and relate to, something that would have some reverberation and impact. >> when we come back, using money to change politics. >> big things are happening thanks to president obama. america is laying the foundation for the way we power tomorrow. >> you have been a supporter of the president. >> i was, and i am. ♪
>> the billionaire tom steyer has donated 65 million dollars to a renewable energy center at yale and stanford, and he has entered into the political arena, spending $10 million to support initiatives and candidates. you have been effective in many of the initiatives you have targeted, and you call some of those initiatives you have put money into some of the best investments you have ever made. [laughter] >> they were. >> is that something you are going to continue to do? >> i don't know that is what i am going to do forever, but i definitely will do that in 2014. >> tom is not the only outspoken liberal in the family. his brother, jim, teaches civil rights courses at stanford and founded common sense media, a nonprofit organization. the brothers have been compared to another set of politically minded siblings, the koch brothers, but they have spent hundreds of millions backing tea party candidates and conservative causes. >> i don't actually know the koch brothers. [laughter] i think there definitely has to
be differences in the sense that those guys are doing something consistent with their self interest, and you know -- >> when you say self interest, what do you mean? >> they basically are pushing stuff that is very good for private enterprise, in specific, oil refinery. they have very specifically, very aggressively, and sometimes very intelligently. i see that as we are on very different trajectory in terms of how we think about it, who we think we are representing, and what we are trying to accomplish. >> but steyer does have an agenda that leans to the left. he spoke at the democratic convention of 2012. >> big things are happening. thanks to president obama, america is laying the foundation for the way we power tomorrow. >> he and his wife have given more than $11 million to super
pacs he founded. they hosted a fundraiser with the president at their san francisco home. you have been a supporter of the president. >> i have. and i am. >> initially, he was quite big on climate change, and he was quite forceful in talking about climate change. are you disappointed? >> i think the president's record through the epa in a regulatory fashion on climate is really good, and i think he really understands the issue. you wouldn't see today but 20 years from now, it would be super obvious, and i think they have that perspective. >> do you have any ambition to run for office? >> i have always said i would do virtually anything to make our agenda come true, and that is true, but i have also tried to be clear that this is not an intelligent, strategic, well-thought-out, self-interested effort to promote myself.
[laughter] i have to say if there came a time when i thought that was really important to do, i wouldn't shy away from it because i felt i was going to get the be jesus kicked out of me. >> you look like the candidates i know. though he said he had no plans to run for office, he stopped and have lunch with the victims of the oil spill while he was in arkansas, and he listened intently. what have you learned in your quest to get the pipeline? [laughter] >> i haven't spent all my time on the pipeline. i spent some time on the pipeline. i think i have gotten a chance to be exposed to more parts of american society than i had been when i was exclusively a professional investor, so i met a bunch of people i would never have met, and i spent time with them. this isn't where you just say hello, how are you, and have 15
seconds. so selfishly, i think it has been really fun, and it has been very good for me. >> his anti-keystone campaign hit a bump in the road recently. in late january, the state department released an environmental review saying the keystone pipeline is unlikely to impact oil production. if the report says it is going to happen anyway. >> is that a good thing? no. there's no way that is a good thing. >> it would allow the president to say, i will go ahead and approve the keystone pipeline, and what happens to you? [laughter] >> i will still get up in the morning and eat breakfast. i will feel as if a huge mistake has been made. >> if it gets approved, is there
still a fight here at all? >> i don't know. i have had people talk to me about that, and they explain different ways you can fight. >> you don't want to look towards that point? >> i honestly don't. i feel like we are committed to the idea of making the case right now that this makes no sense, and i think it is a chance for the president to be a global leader in a way that is incredibly relevant and incredibly historically significant. to me, i look at it like somebody is giving you on a platter this incredible opportunity, which entirely lines up with your understanding of the world and your understanding of who you want to be in the context of that world. why is that complicated? >> when we return, tom steyer's paradise. running this huge ranch, how is it different from running a $20 billion hedge fund? ♪
>> the northern california coast is one of the most picturesque places in the united states, so it is no wonder this is where the billionaire tom steyer spends his free time. there is an 18 acre ranch he and his wife bought in 2002. an hour outside of san francisco, it is a world away. buying this ranch, was that your idea or your wife's idea? >> i think you can blame my wife. [laughter]
originally, we bought it because of the land was so misused you could dump stuff if you paid the fee. >> running this huge ranch, how is it different from running $20 billion hedge funds? >> i can tell you how it is the same and how it is incredibly different. it's the same in that you think it looks like an asset, but it is actually dramatically changed by the people who run it. that's exactly like every organization i have been in, which is having great people at the top. it is unbelievably significant and powerful, and that's where the comparison is. >> how much have you put into this? >> i try never to ask this question. we have rebuilt every building. katherine felt as if raising grass fed cattle is something that would be a good thing to do and a fun thing to do. >> tomkat ranch has a staff of 15, including scientists studying economically friendly ways to raise cattle.
>> you move the animal from place to place. that is how you have big herds of animals that have moved across the plains of the earth. at this point, what we would think of as real success is if it turned out scientifically we are right with the way we are grazing the animals causes the land to soak up twice as much carbon as normal. >> steyer has always bucked against traditional wisdom. he and his wife decided to settle on the west coast near their alma mater stanford university. >> i chose to not live in new york city. i never felt as if i was really part of that community, even though i have a lot of friends in it. you know they say the person that has the most toys when he dies wins. that's insane.
right? why would that be true? i remember when i first started i was talking to someone about an investment situation, and there was someone trying to take control of the company. i said, that guy is an idiot. the person i was talking to said, he is worth a lot more money than you. i don't think he could be so stupid. i am thinking, am i dumber than everyone richer than me? no, and i am not smarter than everybody i am richer than. >> is that why you left wall street? >> i didn't think it would be a great place to have little kids, and if you like the great outdoors. it is hard to re-create. >> steyer tries to get out to his ranch a few times a week. in addition to raising grass fed cattle, it plays host to local
schoolchildren who come to visit dorothy, the 300 pound pig. >> the rule is don't name it if you want to eat it, but this really is the equivalent of a petting zoo. we could go inside. >> the kids come here. or they go inside. >> they do all that stuff. here comes dorothy. do you have an apple for her? >> do we have an apple? >> no. that's what she's interested in, not us. >> tom steyer seems to have moved comfortably from ceo to his new role as environmental caretaker, but it remains to be seen if his passion and deep pockets are enough to conquer keystone. >> i think my parents had a strong sense of participating in the community, which is all i really think i am doing. ♪
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